The most recent estimates from the US Geological Survey show that Mexico was the top silver-producing country in 2021.
There are many factors to consider when investing in silver-focused stocks, including the management team, the silver price and which companies are operating in the top silver-producing countries.
Knowing the top silver-producing countries can help investors understand the logic behind the exploration and development decisions that companies make. For example, high silver production in a particular country might indicate mining-friendly laws or high-grade deposits.
In 2021, Mexico was once again the world’s leading silver-producing country. Global silver production increased marginally for the period, rising to 24,000 metric tonnes (MT) due to a return to production in key countries following shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Below is an overview of the top silver-producing countries of 2021. Silver production stats are based on the latest data from the US Geological Survey.
Mine production: 5,600 MT
Mexico continues to rank as the world’s largest pure silver producer. Its output in 2021 increased slightly by 60 MT over the previous year. Mexico is home to Fresnillo (LSE:FRES,OTC Pink:FNLPF), the largest silver company in the world. Fresnillo’s silver production in 2021 was nearly on par with the previous year, down 0.6 percent.
The state of Zacatecas hosts two of the world’s largest silver mines. One is Fresnillo’s Zacatecas silver mine, and the other is Newmont’s (TSX:NGT,NYSE:NEM) Penasquito polymetallic mine, also Mexico’s largest open-pit mine.
Mine production: 3,400 MT
Second on this top silver-producing countries list is China. The Silver Institute attributes a large part of China’s rise within the bullion market in recent years to the country’s development of its mining industry, as the majority of Chinese silver production originates as a by-product of other metals.
Many companies in China are privately owned, but Silvercorp Metals (TSX:SVM,NYSEAMERICAN:SVM) bills itself as the country’s largest primary silver producer. It has a portfolio of producing silver-lead-zinc mines in China, including the multi-mine Ying district and the GC mine.
Mine production: 3,000 MT
Peru ranked third in silver production in 2021 by putting out 3,400 MT in silver supply, up from 2,770 MT in 2020. Peru features the world’s largest-known silver reserves, with an impressive 120,000 MT of silver. The country has a massive amount of untapped silver potential that could allow it to challenge Mexico for the top spot in the future.
Much of Peru’s physical silver production comes from the Antamina mine, a joint venture between BHP (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BHP), Glencore (LSE:GLEN,OTC Pink:GLCNF), Teck Resources (TSX:TECK.A,TSX:TECK.B,NYSE:TECK) and Mitsubishi (OTC Pink:MSBHF,TSE:8058). Although a prolific producer of silver bullion, Antamina is primarily a copper mine with silver produced as a by-product.
Fortuna Silver Mines (TSX:FVI,NYSE:FSM) is rapidly growing its silver production with two operating mines on the market, one of which is in Peru. The Caylloma mine produced more than 1 million ounces of silver in 2021.
Mine production: 1,600 MT
Chile produced nearly the same amount of silver in 2021 as it did the year prior. Most of the silver production in the country is a by-product of copper and gold production. The country’s reserves are an estimated 26,000 MT.
Chile’s state-owned Codelco, one of the world’s top copper producers, is also one of the world’s top silver-producing companies.
Mine production: 1,300 MT
In 2021, Australia tied with Poland and Russia for fifth place in silver output. Mines in Australia churned out 1,300 MT of silver in 2021, a slight drop from 1,340 MT in 2020. Silver mining has a rich history in Australia, and BHP began there as a silver operation in the 1920s.
Today, South32 (ASX:S32,OTC Pink:SHTLF) runs Queensland's Cannington mine, which produces more silver than any other in the country. The company claims it is one of the world’s largest and lowest-cost silver producers.
Mine production: 1,300 MT
Poland, unlike Australia and Russia, saw its 2021 silver production increase by 50 MT compared to the previous year. The country could expand its silver production further as it has 70,000 MT of silver reserves.
Poland-based KGHM Polska Miedz (WSE:KGH) is consistently one of the world’s top silver-producing companies, according to the Silver Institute.
Mine production: 1,300 MT
Russia’s silver output decreased by 20 MT in 2021. The country’s silver reserves stand at 45,000 MT, and its largest silver producer is Polymetal International (LSE:POLY,OTC Pink:POYYF). Polymetal dominates silver production in Russia and operates seven gold and silver mines in the country.
Additionally, the smaller-scale Silver Bear Resources (TSX:SBR) produced the first silver at its Mangazeisky project in Russia in 2019. Mangazeisky includes the high-grade Vertikalny deposit, which the company says is “amongst the highest-grade silver deposits in the world.”
Mine production: 1,000 MT
Bolivia had the same output as the US in 2021, a slight uptick from its silver production of 930 MT in 2020. There is room for its silver industry to expand as the country has reported reserves of 22,000 MT.
Bolivia is home to several silver mines, particularly in its Potosi region. The San Cristobal mine is operated by Sumitomo (OTC Pink:SSUMF,TSE:8053), and Pan American Silver (TSX:PAAS,NASDAQ:PAAS) operates the San Vicente underground silver-zinc mine.
9. United States
Mine production 1,000 MT
As mentioned, the US tied with Bolivia for silver output in 2021, producing 1,000 MT. Metal was mined at four silver operations and as a by-product at 33 base and precious metals mines. Silver reserves in the US stand at 26,000 MT, and the country’s two top silver-producing states are Alaska and Nevada.
The largest US-based primary silver producer is Coeur Mining (NYSE:CDE). Coeur’s US projects are not silver focused, but the company does operate silver mines in South America and Australia. The US mine with the highest silver output is Barrick Gold's (TSX:ABX,NYSE:GOLD) Cortez mine, which is primarily gold.
Mine production 800 MT
Argentina replaced Kazakhstan on the list of major silver producers in 2018, and in 2021 was the 10th largest silver producer in the world. Its 2021 silver output was up from 710 MT in the previous year.
In mid-2018, Yamana Gold (TSX:YRI,NYSE:AUY) began commercial production at Cerro Moro, a high-grade gold-silver mine in the country. The company's overall 2021 production benefited from strong output at Cerro Moro due to an increase in mill feed coming from higher-grade underground ore and stable throughput. The company is planning higher production in the future as it builds its mineral resource inventory at Cerro Moro. Argentina is also home to the Chinchillas and Pirquitas mines, owned by SSR Mining (TSX:SSRM,NASDAQ:SSRM).
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
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